True Detective: Night Country isn’t the True Detective of ten years ago, the one where Matthew McConaughey waxed poetic about time being a flat circle (amidst accusations of plagiarism perpetrated by show creator Nic Pizzolatto) and Woody Harrelson wallowed in misery over the existential stresses of being a married cop. While it continues the trend of featuring master detectives that suck at being decent human beings, Night Country aims for more horror between the requisite character study and the gruesome murder that’s become signature for the series. We have writer/director Issa López to thank for that, whose previous work in the field of horror (she directed the amazing Tigers Are Not Afraid) is shining through in this cold procedural.

The grimy buildings and lonely forest areas of seasons past are left behind for the quiet but dark isolation of Ennis, Alaska. A group of scientists in a research facility disappear suddenly, no trace of them other than a severed tongue that might or might not belong to one of them. Detectives Liz Danvers (Jodie Foster) and Evangeline Navarro (Kali Reis), both sharing a fractured past with enough animosity to go around between them, take the case just as the sun disappears and night becomes a continuous two-month affair. Early one it’s established that the case might be connected to the death of an Iñupiat woman called Anne Kowtok, whose unresolved murder hints at tensions between the town and the mining operation running through it.

And then come the strange spiral tattoos that could be linked to the murders from season one, the one-eyed polar bears, and the dead men stuck in the ice. This last one gives audiences the word of the season: corpsicle. It’s a nightmare pulled straight out of John Carpenter’s The Thing, a mess of frozen naked bodies held together by ice.

Two episodes in, the True Detective flavor is apparent, especially when it comes to its tortured detectives. Jodie Foster storms out of the gate as a tired and battle-hardened investigator that’s a nightmare to work with despite there not being someone as capable as her anywhere near the town the Ennis. Kali Reis comes in as a challenge to that claim, portraying Navarro as a detective that’s not yet reached the level of cynicism that afflicts Foster. She represents the tiny bit of hope that exists of justice making an appearance, if not fully.

Where López adds her unique spin on the True Detective formula is in its more magical realist elements. The series has always made space for the weird, coated it with a kind of darkness that strips humanity of its moral vestments to get at the brutal ugliness at its core. People left unchecked aren’t just naturally inclined to do bad. They become actual monsters, driven by selfishness and a need for forbidden pleasures. López infuses this with magical realism, giving the supernatural reasonable space to influence the proceedings.

A dead man might show the way to a murder site in one scene while rumblings of an ancient microorganism’s existence suggest the awakening of an ancient evil in another. None of these ideas impose themselves on the plot, though. They add different avenues of interpretation for the case in question. Strange deaths become stranger, and what’s already chilling becomes unsettling. It all paves the way to a very symbolic approach to storytelling that invites audiences to think about certain sequences and revelations more intently.

Whether the magical realism aspects of the story stick or get debunked remains to be seen, but the air of mysticism it affords gives Night Country its own identity. In other words, this is Issa López’s True Detective, and it demands its own recognition.

True Detective: Night Country is different in the ways that matter. It’s perhaps the series’ strangest entry, but not to the point of alienating fans who’ve been around since the Harrelson and McConaughey days. Fans of horror will get a few satisfying references they can feel proud they caught (one belongs to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s classic opening sequence), and newcomers will find a case with enough frozen blood to satisfy crime fiction fans for the long haul. So embrace the weird, descend into the depths of human violence with Danvers and Navarro, and try to solve the case of the corpsicle.